Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Soul's Strong Instinct of Another World

I have a deep hunger for unique, one of a kind, not-mainstream-sounding music.

I want more edgy poetry in music.

More songs themed on aesthetics.
The sound of a summer night's owls and bats, a spring morning's fairy bells, a winter midnight stillness, an autumn afternoon's beautiful stirring restlessness.
Sunsets and sunrises.  Twilight.  Midnight.
The beach in the early hours of the morning.
The contained excitement of deer and elk heading up into the mountains for summer pasture.
The calculating thrill of a lion on the prowl.
The snarl of a tiger turning to protect itself.

(Can I have an entire album of both instrumental and songs-with-lyrics themed on selkies, please?)

Old poems with updated phrasing for a fresh touch and set to indie-folk or folk-pop melodies.

Epic vocal music that truly has EPIC lyrics instead of sounding like a three-year-old wrote them.
(Epic vocal music is gorgeous, and I love it, but not when it consists of the same one line being repeated over and over with only very minor variations...SOMEONE HAND ME COFFEE TO WAKE ME UP.)

I want to hear good voices.
The kind that one has to describe with story phrases.

I want more world music of the likes of Heather Dale and Loreena McKennitt—turning stories into ballads with an international flair.  (Happy day! Loreena's dropping a new album next month.)

More relatable indietronica and synth-pop like Owl City and CHVRCHES.

More indie-folk/folk-pop such as Of Monsters and Men.

Epic music the quality of Two Steps from Hell and Audiomachine but themed on historical events.

Stirring songs the likes of May It Be, Song of the Lonely Mountain, Into the West, and The Last Goodbye.

Music re-imagining classic stories with a contemporary flair, such as the French rock musicals Robin des Bois, La L├ęgende du Roi Arthur, and Les Trois Mousquetaires.

More rock like some of Nickelback's—songs that remind you to keep going, there's something in the world worth fighting for, even if you have to claw your way to it.

More songs like Enya's poetry in music.  Or like Svrcina's Battlefield.

Mythology, legend, and history made FUN, relatable, and interesting again through song.

I just want more music that is edgy without being depressing, fun without insisting I have to get drunk to experience life, and deep while still being relatable for a wide variety of people.

What about you?  What would you like to see more of in music?  What are some of your favorite songs?  Favorite musical artists?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Reverse Harem: Innocent Women ~ Belleza

After last week's post, I looked at the list of stories in which I've written reverse harem and laughed, because one of those stories is not like all the others. 

Out of the six times I've written reverse harem, I've only written the Innocent Heroine once: Belleza Rivera, heroine of Queen Beauty and the Beasts, my 2016 NaNo novel that I'm now beginning to revise for publishing.

I'm most in my comfort zone when writing powerful women types: the thinkers, manipulators, movers, and shakers.  Less so when writing the more emotional and/or innocent heroines.  But Queen Beauty and the Beasts, a contemporary fantasy retelling of both Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera, demanded the Innocent type, rather than the Powerful type.

Belleza wasn't just Belle/Beauty, she was also Christine.  Not only that, she was up against not one, but twelve 'Beasts', one of whom was also the Phantom, all of whose curses she's sworn to break.  It's her strong belief in love– a belief she firmly clings to even after seeing exactly what evil she's up against– that carries her through, as well as her hope that good will triumph over evil, that love can face down any obstacle and still win.

Because I set out to tell a story of love over lust, her being an Innocent type also gave me a large scope for symbolism.

Writing Belleza was a very interesting experience for me.  I don't normally write extrovert FMCs; they're simply not my comfort zone.  I also usually write logical, coolly rational, thinking FMCs, and Belleza was most assuredly not those.  Plus, she is Argentinian, which means she's even more outwardly emotionally demonstrative than say, an American heroine would have been.

But she's not stupid or inane.  She's got a brain and she uses it.  Also, I didn't realize it at the time, but much of her character was unconsciously influenced by irritation that many introverts dismiss how smart and level headed extroverts can be, just because they don't understand them well.

It was also somewhat of a personal challenge to myself.  COULD I, in fact, write a non-Powerful type heroine without completely failing?  Could I write an emotional, extroverted heroine?

I could, it turns out.  And it was fun.  (Stressful, because I pushed myself really hard on that book, but fun.)  And I still love the story, even after it sat for a year.  I'm excited to begin revising it.

My comfort zone is still Powerful-type heroines, but after writing this book, I have a new appreciation of not only the more innocent, hopeful heroines in stories, but those kinds of people in real life, too.

What about you?  Do you tend to write more innocent or powerful heroines in your stories, (with or without reverse harem elements)?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reverse Harem HOW Many Times?

Greetings, one and all!  I return from the fog shrouding my absence in mystery to once again and with delight take up this blog's pen.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how and why I write stories with many and complicated 'love lines': romantic attractions between a single heroine and multiple male leads, also known as 'reverse harem' stories.

Apropos of beginning a series yesterday on my creative writing blog that further elaborates how to write reverse harem without making people scream in rage, frustration, or disgust, I figured it would be fun to do a parallel series here exploring my own reverse harem stories.

So, without further ado, I introduce the times I've written reverse harem + WHY.

Story/Series: Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Why: Because I wanted to explore Beauty up against a whole 'castle' full of beasts.

Story/Series: Oath of Loyalty/Fidelitas
Why: This was 100% not planned and just happened.  More guys just kept poking their noses in and bingo.

Story/Series: A Certain Darkness/Stellumo
Why: Because a Julius Caesar retelling naturally involved a Cleopatra... and the rest is... history.  Ehehehe.

Story/Series: Wings of the Tiger
Why: Ha.  Because you do not drop this power-mad girl down in a power-mongering court and NOT have that happen.

Story/Series: Ebony and Aubergine/The Lion and the Rose
Why: She's a princess, trained to elicit information and profile people.

Story/Series: Venit Hora/Three Kyngdoms
Why: She's a Valkyrie and it's... complicated.

Essentially, my reasons for writing it so many times are:
#2 = Because it just kind of... happened that way in the story.
#3 = It was fun.
#4 = I do what I want in my writing, and the more complicated, the more fun I (usually) have.
#5 = Did I mention it's FUN?

Next week: a closer look into Queen Beauty and the Beasts and the 'innocent' reverse harem heroine.

Have YOU written any reverse harem stories?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Once Upon a Crime, an Introduction

Once upon a time...

...during one very busy NaNo, about which I've scarcely posted on here, but which was good, and yes, I did complete... I had another new story idea. 
(Isn't that always the way it works?  Hard at work on one story, and a cute little plot porg dashes through.)
[Yes, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Yes, I loved it.  Yes, I need a porg.  And a crystal critter.  Yes, I'll write a review at some point.]

I can't say exactly what sparked the idea.  I was in the middle of it before I knew I had begun.

Premise: WHAT IF.... the 'princesses' from fairy tales are actually the suspects in various white collar crimes??

Genre: fairy tale retellings, Ruritanian, mystery
Format: novella series
(Yes, this means me, the confirmed epic-novel-length writer whose only other fairy tale retelling to date clocked out at 172,000+ words is attempting to keep these books to 40,000 words or below.  So far, so good.)

Country: Charion, a small, fictional European monarchy on the coast of the Mediterranean, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy
Capital city: Dynatia
Languages: Charion, English, Greek
Chief exports: haute couture fashion, horses
History: Modern day descendants of the Illyrians.  According to legend, they trace their descent back to Cynane, half sister to Alexander the Great and daughter of the Illyrian princess Audata and Philip of Macedon.

Electra Penelope Shirin = white collar crime detective

Roxana Helen Antiope = white collar crime detective

Crown Prince Alexander Phillipi Illyroi = lawyer who takes on charity cases concerning his citizens because he doesn't need the money from taking paying cases.

Orion Pegasi = best friend of the prince, former Special Forces soldier, owner of a home security and private security company which has provided security for the upper class houses suddenly being robbed/etc.

Darius Xenophon = cousin of and head of security for the Crown Prince

I'm nearly 10,000 words into the first book, almost one fourth of the way.  It was too good not to plot immediately (I plotted it in 3 1/2 days) and then begin as soon as NaNo was over.

#1 in the series: 
The Iron Tongue of Midnight, retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses.

When the house of a Duke is burgled and a priceless collection of high-fashion shoes are taken, white collar crime detectives Roxana and Electra assume that it’s a normal robbery-for-money and arrest a soldier for the theft.

But then, the Duke calls in a lawyer to defend the soldier, copies of the shoes begin showing up on the black market, and the detectives discover that Duke's daughters go missing for five hours every night.  They're stranded on a hot case, taking pressure from all sides, and have no leads in sight.

Two heads are better than one, but those two might not be enough this time.

(I apologize for the very slapdash blurb, I literally threw it together in five minutes instead of the usual hour of rewriting.  It will undergo rewrites later.)

Tentative list of fairy tales (in no particular order) coming to the series later:
  • The Wild Swans
  • Aladdin
  • Snow White and Rose Red
  • East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon
  • Snow White
  • Toads and Diamonds
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • Cinderella
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Peter Pan
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Rumplestiltskin
  • The Frog Prince
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • Rapunzel
  • Bluebeard
  • Puss in Boots
  • Pinocchio
  • King Thrushbeard
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Cinderlad/Glass Mountain
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • Tam Lin


    “Now, how can you say that without having even seen them?”
    The first speaker shook her head as they glanced both ways before crossing the street.  “Rox, girl, I did see them.  You know I looked them up the first moment you told me about them.  And the answer’s still no.  Can you see the landlord allowing it?”
    “Oh, you know that Melantha would convince him.”  Roxana drained the last of the coffee from the cup in her left hand.
    Creamy golden sunlight spilled down over the white columns of the building they were approaching, an old temple that now housed the police headquarters for the city of Dynatia.
    “How would we persuade Hannibal and Zenobia to leave it alone?  And how would Caliburn and Ariel take being displaced in your affections?”
    Her companion snorted and detoured briefly to throw the empty cup into a trash can before catching up to her in three long strides.  “They’d be fine.  Think about it.  Electra, really.  Tiny deer!  Tiny.  Deer.  Come now, you can’t tell me you don’t love the picture.”  Ruby lips curved into an enchanted smile at the vista she painted.
    “I have pictured it, and it’s everything adorable and precious, and I’d enjoy it.  Pity it’s not practical right now, Snow White.  A baby Groot on the other hand… I could really go for one of those.”
    Roxana snorted.  “Couldn’t we all?”


    “He is a private investigator, so he has to protect client information, but… how are we supposed to clear him if we don’t know where he was?”  Roxana thumped her desk in frustration.  “Go do bad cop quickly, please, so I know what you think.” 
    “Eee, sig nai, that’s not going to happen.”  Dinos walked in and resumed his seat at his desk.  A homicide detective, he not infrequently gave them a hand on a case if he had no work of his own.  They had returned the favor more than once.  Here, everything was shared.
    “What do you mean?” Electra demanded, both she and Roxana coming up out of their chairs as though pulled by a magnet and turning to look through the window of the interrogation room.
    “He lawyered up,” Dinos said, jerking over his shoulder with his thumb.  “I don’t know about you, but arguing with the prince of my country wasn’t on my list for today.”
    “The prince?!” Roxana exclaimed, startled into near-hoarseness.
    “Which prince?” Electra asked, eyes narrowing.
    “The Prince,” another colleague breathed in a starstruck whisper, bounding up to them, having looked through the window into the room.
    “I don’t have time for games,”  Electra reminded her, fixing her with a stern look.
    The colleague gulped, but her eyes didn’t loose their starry shine.  She took a deep breath, the better to deliver her solemn announcement. 
    “The Crown Prince.  Alexander Philippi Illyroi, Sword of His People, Heir to the Throne of Charion.”


    “See what we can dig up on the suspect,” Roxana added.
    “Legally,” their boss reminded them sternly.
    “Of course,” they assured her in unison.
    In the process of removing her badge and gathering her bag, their boss gave them a dubious look over her shoulder.
    Her detectives looked innocently back at her.
    “Get outta here.”  She flapped her hands at them.  “Go eat dinner or something.  I’m going to see my cousins.”
    “We need to go over the case again,” Electra said, and Roxana felt a prickle of disappointment.  If her partner thought they needed to review the case again right away, she would stay, but until Cassandra had mentioned it, she hadn’t realized how hungry she was.
    “No,” their captain said forcefully.  “No, no, no.  Nothing is more important than dinner.  Unless it’s the King,” she amended hastily, seeing both women open their mouths.  “Go eat, that’s an order.  Rox, get her out of here.” 
    “Kids,” she muttered as she brushed out of the doorway ahead of them.  “No respect for tradition or common sense.  Skip dinner indeed.   Like working on an empty stomach is going to accomplish something.  Or that work is more important than food.  What nonsense did they learn in their high falutin college?”  Her complaining gradually died away down the hall.
    Roxana looked at Electra, who shrugged.
    “We better get going if we don’t want her wrath on us.”


    In a cafe several streets away, Crown Prince Alexander parted from Konos with a firm hug.  “Remember, not a word to anyone else for now,” he cautioned.
    “I know, yes, sir.  Thank you, sir, for helping me.”
    Alexander thumped him on the shoulder.  “Nothing to it.  The detectives don’t have much to go on, and they can’t charge you.  You’re innocent in the eyes of the law.”
    Konos hesitated.  “Eeee, sir, they don’t look like the kinds of people to just sit back quietly and not try to net every dead fish in the shallows.”
    He considered that briefly, then shrugged.  “I said I’d handle your case, so don’t worry about it.  Get back to whatever secret project you’re investigating for the Duke.”
    Konos’s parting words were so quiet that the prince barely heard them as he went towards the door.
    “Thank you, my captain.”
    Alexander paused and then shrugged.  “Can’t lose a good soldier now.”  The final grin he sent his former comrade was a reminder.  Focus.  Stay on the mission.  I’ve got your back as much as you ever had mine.


    “So, how much like the Greeks are you?” asked a third tourist at the table.
    “Well, we don’t swear as much as the Greeks do.”  Roxana tilted her head and sent a laughing glance at them from beneath long eyelashes.
    “Just almost as much,” Electra added.
    “The difference is really very slight, hardly worth mentioning,” said a young man at another nearby table.  One of the regulars, he roomed at the same boarding house she and Electra did.
    “Some of us have more to fill our head than swear words, Kovo,” Electra remarked dryly, quelling him.


    “I approve of this Duke,” Electra said abruptly a moment later.
    Roxana paused with her water bottle half way to her mouth.  “And why is that, O Sage?”
    “Well, if you’re going to have twelve daughters, it is pretty handy to name them after the months.  Easy for people to remember.  Not very many people seem to consider sense when naming their children.  I really think more people should.”
    “Ew!  Who wants to do that?  Naming someone is all about aesthetic, Miss Common Sense.  The names need to sing.  To have meaning.  To flow.”
    “Hey!  I never said they didn’t!  But it also helps if people can pronounce them, too,” Electra countered.  “I think both should be combined for a harmonious whole.”
    “Mmmmm.  When I have kids,” Roxana said dreamily, propping her booted feet up on the corner of her desk, “I’m going to name them the most beautiful, aesthetically pleasing names ever, and if people can’t pronounce them at once, they can learn how.”
    “You would.”  Electra tossed down the file of one daughter and began on another.  “I’ll be around to give them easily remember-able nicknames which commoners can use.”
    “So practical,” Roxana sighed provokingly.
    “So lost in beauty,” Electra retorted with a smothered laugh.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Delights of Beta Reading

I don't have a long list of hobbies.  Mostly they revolve around words in some way.  My work is words and my play is often words, as well.  Houston, we might have a problem.  (What is play, Precious?  What is RELAX??)

Near the very top of that list is beta reading.  Through beta reading I've gained several friends– including my two best friends– and seen the deeper side of many people, the side not readily shown to the public.  I rarely have the time for it that I'd like anymore (it's called being an adult), but I still alpha read for my three favorite contemporary writers and occasionally beta read for others.

But why?  What is it about beta/alpha reading that makes me love it so much, even when I'm so busy with other things that I can only fit bits and pieces of it in for weeks at a time?

  What kept me going from offering to beta a ridiculous number of books one year to gradually whittling down the list to the people whose work I most love or about which I am most curious?

A love for stories and for storytelling runs strong in my blood, and I exult in releasing that through writing.  But there is a unique and powerful joy in watching others do that too.  Especially if the author is a favorite of mine.  

There is an indescribable wonder in being able to give an author feedback that will help them.  There is an elation in watching a book come out in full published splendor, knowing where it began and seeing how it has been refined to be shown now in shining glory.

It's not all fun and games and cheering someone on.  It's not all sunshine and rainbows and free books to read.  It’s actually a very serious charge.  Each book is a part of their author's soul.  So when they hand it to you, they are entrusting you with a part of themselves.  Handle with Care might as well be written all over it in red Sharpie marker.  Through their story, you see a part of them that is not always readily seen elsewhere.

It took me a few years to settle into a comfortable style that combined my preferences with what authors need.  Early on, I tried too hard and wasn’t honest enough.  I saw the flaws but tried to only focus on the good.  Feedback should DEFINITELY highlight the good parts, but if there are areas that need work, those should be pointed out too, else the beta/alpha reading won't be helpful enough.  It needs to be honest and yet encouraging.

Sometimes, especially with books that have a good core but the execution is sadly lacking, it’s hard to figure out how to be honest without being harsh.  It’s also hard when I love a book and know that it really is good, to make sure the author knows I'm not just 'gushing'.  There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about something I love, but for an author to know I seriously examined and analyzed the work, the love has to be backed up with specifics over what I liked and WHY I liked it so much.  I have to have rational explanations to be helpful.

It's also frustrating when the feedback you gave seems not to have helped the author at all, or worse and most frustrating, when you spent hours working on feedback for someone's book and the author never responds even to say whether they liked it or not/it was helpful/it wasn't helpful.  *cue irritated beta reader who privately declares never to read for that author again*

Above all, the thing I love most about reading or critiquing other authors' work is the sheer delight of helping an author see their work through the eyes of a reader, and then to watch them bring their work to completion.   

That’s what started me on the road of beta reading, and then alpha reading.  (It's also what prompted me to transition into the world of critiquing [more analytical and technical than beta reading] as one of my editorial services.)

It's hard work sometimes, and definitely a challenging balance to try to walk most of the time, but the work is more than repaid when someone tells you that your feedback was invaluable, when someone comes BACK to you and specifically asks you to read something else they wrote because what you did before helped, or when you hold in your hands a book you first saw as a half-feathered first draft, and it's fully feathered now and ready to fly.

That's when it's time to grab your friends by the throat and tell them, ‘YOU REALLY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.’

That's honestly the best part of it all.

Do you beta or alpha read for authors?  What's your favorite part about it?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Is It Really 'Just A Story'?

"It's just fiction, what's the big deal?"
"It's just a story, why are you being so critical of it?  Give it a break."
"It's a made-up world, you know, why is it irritating you so much?"

All are questions I- and my close friends- have heard multiple times.

People approach fiction differently.  Some see it as mere entertainment, to be enjoyed for a few hours and then left behind.  Some see it as escape, either from stress or from a darker life.  Others see it as a vehicle of social commentary.  Still others see it as an expression of a society, a weapon and/or a tool. 

For some people though, it’s something more than just an art form.  It’s a lifestyle, a passion, a great mirror that reflects the world– and themselves.

Without judging any of the other viewpoints, I’d like to expound on the last one and why I hold it.

Stories can change lives.

Once we read or watch a story, it becomes a part of us.  Whether it's only temporarily– for the duration of its being read– or whether permanently, something that we'll remember even when old and gray.  Fiction can inspire us to become better versions of ourselves, alert us to problems in the world we weren't aware of before, help us process our thoughts and opinions on an issue, assist us in dealing with a rough situation/grief/a hard life, or just make us draw a long breath and soak in the beauty of the story for a minute.  Beauty is vital to a balanced life.

Writing fiction is a craft.  True, it is an art, but it's also a craft in which there are standards of what is good writing and what is bad writing.  When a story has a good plot but is badly written, or when the writing is good but the plot is ridiculous, it falls short of the mark.  Yes, that irritates me, it even disgusts me at times, when it's plain that the author didn't care enough to put more time and effort into a story.  It's even more frustrating when authors perpetuate bad fiction, either because it was published by traditional houses and found a market or because with the rise of self publishing, literally anything can be published nowadays.

A good story doesn't just have some snarky characters, witty dialogue and a few unusual worldbuilding elements or relationships.  A good story is one that unites a unique plot (or an original handling of an old trope/story) with characters who feel like they could be real people, were you to walk into the pages of said story, enhanced by a setting that is vivid in its appeal to the senses, and all of it told, if not brilliantly, then well.

Granted, achieving that takes work, and I'm not at all implying slurs against amateur authors or their work.  I'm just describing why I take such a critical approach to evaluating literature.

For some people, they can read books, class them as entertainment, and turn away with a shrug.  But for myself and my closest friends, it’s never JUST fiction.  We don’t consider each and every one of the books we write to be a lightning bolt message from God or some social cause, but at the same time, it’s not merely a story to us.  Besides being a part of our souls, stories can change the world, one person at a time.  We write them with the hope that they'll live long in the memory of the readers, even if only because they're angry with us, the author.  (Hey, all the best books make at least one person mad.)

The good books, the ones I actually finish, and the ones I eventually re-read, those are the reason I read fiction.  And I look for the same quality in what I read that I strive for in what I write.

If there is no standard for which to strive, there is no bar to inspire us to reach higher.   If we're going to write and read fiction, let it be good fiction.  Let it do something to make our day brighter, not harder.  Let it give us something to take away and keep with us for the rest of our lives.

As Leo McGarry once said, in Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing, "And let THAT be our legacy."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Every Author Should Have Some

A couple weeks ago I made a post on Intuitive Writing Guide about where to look for cover designers for your book.  In this post I said "Having artist friends is great, BTW, in case anyone was wondering, every author should have some artist friends."

HERE'S WHY having artist friends is so great for an author.

Artists see the world differently from anyone else.

They are intensely visual people, naturally.  It is their passion (and often their job) to vividly picture something and then visually create it (as opposed to verbally creating it with words).

They look at a scene and they see colors, they see harmony and disharmony, they see aesthetics, they see 'vibes' from characters often embodied as colors or concepts (one reason I love them so much).

As someone who thinks in 'vibes' and designs characters based on 'auras', I adore this about them.  I especially love how they can distill a vibe or an aura down to a 'single encompassing element' so to speak, making me sit back and go, 'Wow.  I didn't see it like that but YOU JUST NAILED IT.'  And that comment can revolutionize the way I see a scene or character.

[You know you've been spending a lot of time with artists when an artist's wife hears you describe something to them and says, 'Y'know, you kind of see things the way an artist does'.]

My artist friends have helped me improve my visuals in writing, because of the inspiration they send, the feedback they give, and how they constantly talk about and 'live in' a mood of aesthetics.  Aesthetic is vital to them, and if you hang around long enough (and are open-minded enough), you'll begin to feel that influence, and it will change the way the world looks to you.  It's amazing.

An artist's medium is visual.  An author's is words.
They're opposites, but highly complimentary opposites.  Artists must condense into a picture what an author can use two pages to describe with words... and an author must use three sentences to portray what artists can 'simply' (art is rarely 'simple') show with two shades of one color.

If an artist tells you, "Your visuals in this scene are very good", you're doing something right.  If they say, "These visuals are GREAT and I love them!", you know you're REALLY doing something right.

Close friendships always go through levels.  After you and your artist friend have gone through the lower levels of:
'I'm comfortable with showing you some of my writing now.'
'I'm comfortable with showing you some of my art now.'
'*fellow creatives in opposite mediums sometimes have to spend a few minutes figuring out what words to use to make the other understand a concept*'
'Okay, just don't say that to an artist.'
'And don't say that to an author.'

...there are a few glorious, silver, upper levels, when your artist friend says:
1. "I want to sketch this character/creature/scene/landscape."
3. "WHEN YOU PUBLISH THIS BOOK, I WANT TO DO THE COVER ART."  (O.o Did you really just say what I think you said... ohmygosh...WHOA.)

On the flip side of the coin, it's intensely gratifying and thrilling for them to sketch or draw something for an author and have the author's reaction be open-mouthed surprise, speechless shock, or semi-incoherent squealing of, 'OHMYWORD YOU PERFECTLY CAPTURED THE scene/character/vibe/etc.'

 Author-artists are a beautiful, fascinating, and rare (well, the good ones are) breed.  Not only can they portray their stories in art to give people visual references, but the way it affects their writing is intriguing to trace.  They look at the 'blocking of a scene' differently.  They may not be outliners or plotters, but they can picture a scene vividly in full detail and write it down, instinctively capturing it.  Also, verbal description might not be one of their strong points, but most of the time, you'd never know it because what descriptions they do have LIVE, mostly because they instinctively pick out the important background pieces and feature those.

Which in turn has taught me what background pieces are important in writing and what are less so.

So that's all very well and awesome, you say, but you don't just jump into a great relationship with an artist, right?  It grows.  And there are things to learn along the way.  Little tips and tricks that lessons for any good friendship, tailored to the particular breed of people known as artists.

Encourage them.
Artists are every bit as self conscious about their art as you are about your writing (if not even more timid sometimes).  Even if they've gone to college and trained for art, they're self conscious, they doubt themselves.  Encourage them, ask to see their art, sometimes even nag them to show you their WIPs (this should only be done with certain personalities that require persuasion and actually are comfortable with showing you their WIPs, so tread carefully here and feel this part out).

Be honest with them.
Tell them when you like things or when it's a great picture but not quite your personal type.  Tell them WHAT you like about a picture, 'the colors here are amazing!', 'HIS EYEBROWS ARE GLORIOUS', 'can I have her HAIR please'.  This thrills them, but only if it's true.  Artists are very quick to spot false enthusiasm or fake praise.  Believe me, this will be unhealthy for them, for you, and for the world in general.  They may be polite but most of them have long memories...and fierce pencils.

If you don't know anything about art, shut up.
'But you just told me to be honest.'  Yes.  Yes, I did.  This is a tricky line to walk.  Be honest about whether you like a picture, what you like about it, etc.  But if you don't really have an eye for art, refrain from making comments like, 'his eye looks off', or 'maybe his forehead is too narrow' or 'her shoulder is crooked'.  It will frustrate the blazes out of an artist and they might stop showing you their work.

In conclusion, artists are a wonderful people and incredible to have as friends.  Get yourself some, if you possibly can... and hang on for the ride.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What's in a Character's Name?

Yesterday I posted on my writing blog about the importance of names in writing.

Naming characters is one of the most important parts of setting up the plot to write your story.  Certainly it can be one of the toughest.  It can also be one of the most rewarding, not only because of the amount of symbolism and plot that can be wrapped up in it but because names have associations and if you do your job right, people will remember your characters.  If I were to say 'Aragorn' you'd immediately think 'Lord of the Rings'.  If I say 'Severus' you immediately think 'Harry Potter'.

So how do I apply the guidelines I talked about yesterday to my own stories?  I'm going to use my last four projects as examples:
Wings of the Tiger (my current WIP)
Queen Beauty and the Beasts (NaNo 2016)
A Certain Darkness (NaNo, 2015, JuNo 2016, on-hiatus WIP)
Ebony and Aubergine (on-hiatus WIP)

A Certain Darkness
Psychological political thriller set in a future in which humans have spread out across the galaxy and what were countries on earth are now planets or star systems. 

The story takes place on the Korean planet in an elite college for orphans.  Most of the students are Korean and their names reflect that, but the MCs are an Irish guy and an Italian girl.   Their names reflect this: Liare Patrick Delaney and Verena Silvesti.

Wait a minute, you say.  Patrick and Delaney are Irish in origin but Liare?

That's where it being a futuristic novel worked in my favor.  I'd made up the name 'Liare' and loved it.  I knew it had to be this guy's first name.  By keeping his middle and last names Irish, I could convey the feeling of his heritage (which is significant to the story) while using a name which I loved, which needed to be his, and which sounded futuristic-y (thus adding to the atmosphere of the novel) without being too hard to pronounce.  [It's pronounced Lee-AIR if you're wondering and the meaning has something to do with 'light'.]

Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Urban fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast + Phantom of the Opera set in contemporary South Korea.

This was one of the easiest books to character-name.  Since almost everyone is Korean, including the male MCs, I chose their names after poring over several lists of Korean names and using my favorites or ones whose sounds matched the personality of each character.  The FMC is Argentinian, and her name– Belleza– means beauty, allowing me to reference both the Disney form (Belle) and her name in the original fairy tale (Beauty).

Ebony and Aubergine
Historical fantasy Scarlet Pimpernel retelling, set in the 1800s on a fictional continent in the Pacific.

I knew I wanted the names to be primarily Arabic and Persian with the culture being a blend of Arabian, Persian, and East Asian cultures.  Which on first impression just sounds insanely impossible.  How do you even DO that?

Like this: the land was settled by Arab pirates, but due to the influx of refugees and other diaspora reasons, it's now a mix of East Asian and Arab culture, with the current inhabitants mostly of East Asian blood but with Arab names.

The meanings of said names play into pretty much every thread and sub-thread of this book.  The FMC's name– Zahira– is the feminine form of Zahir, which means 'helper, supporter' (not saying anything other than that because SPOILERS SWEETIE).  The Sir Andrew character is named Mustafa (if you read Mufasa, I don't blame you) which means 'the chosen one' - significant given his place at his leader's right hand.  Lord Tony's name means 'knight'. 

Wings of the Tiger
East Asian historical fantasy set on a fictional continent which is an Asian pseudo-Atlantis.  (Yeah, I kind of have a thing for fictional continents inspired by legends.)  [I might have a thing for East Asia, too, not that anyone would notice.]

The two MCs are from Korea, then known as Goryeo.  Their names are native Korean words, but at the time (and to a great extent now) Korea didn't use native descriptive words as names.  So I've just broken a major rule in writing HiFy, and one I cautioned people just yesterday not to break.

Or did I?

I needed their names to be Bora and Nari because of several reasons (in-joke relating to the inspiration of the book, the meanings of the names, easy to say and remember), but I needed a way to 'break the rule' without breaking the rule.  So I established (er, am establishing, I'm only in the 3rd chapter of the book) that the names 'Bora' and 'Nari' were the girls' nicknames, which they adopted as their names while on the run, to disguise their real names.  Then they just kept them when in the new land.

'Plot darning' Mirriam Neal has called it, and even those of us who are obsessive plotters have to do it sometimes, though certainly not to the extent that pansters do. 

Almost everyone else in the story is from the fictional continent on which the story is set, and their names are my inventions or alterations to fit in with the semi-Mongolian culture I've put together.

{NOTE: Wings of the Tiger is now open for beta/alpha reading, so if you're not on FB and didn't see the announcement there but do want to read this story, leave me a comment.  Please, only readers willing to give feedback.  I'm not asking for intensive critique feedback, just the usual beta stuff.}

So, that's how I personally get away with doing both what I want in regards to names but also following guidelines of good, believable naming in stories.  Because who doesn't want to break rules without breaking rules?

How did you come up with the names for the characters in your WIP?  What is the explanation for them within your story universe?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Don't Forget to Miss Me

It was an odd phrase that caught my attention.  On a Sunday afternoon, several months ago, I was watching the latest episode of a Chinese drama about a teen, female martial artist.  I’d started the drama because it starred one of my favorite Korean actors as the coach, and kept going because not only was his character good but the camaraderie between the students of the central martial arts hall was beautiful.

In this particular episode, the FMC and the coach were in Japan for a competition and she’d just Skyped home to talk to her friends.  As they said goodbye, her best friend– a cute, petite girl in pigtails– hollered ‘don’t forget to miss me!’

The call ended and both sets of people went on with their day.  It wasn’t highlighted— it was almost a throw-away phrase— but it struck me strongly.

It can come across as clingy: 'she's only gone for a week, what's the big deal?  What a needy friend.’

I’ve struggled with this concept myself for months.  As a fiercely independent person, I loathe the idea of being clingy.  I often have trouble understanding the difference between being clingy and being dependent.  Even being attached to someone comes with a set of problems for me, because to be attached to the point of dependence on someone feels to me— initially— to be a sign of weakness.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in conversation with my closest friends on this topic, ranging from as long ago as three years to as recently as earlier this week.  (100% honesty 24/7 is seriously recommended with your best friend/s, people, FYI, even if you want to protect them or think they're too stressed to handle it right then.)

You become friends with someone because you like them (usually).  The closer you grow to that person, the more they become a part of your life.  With your best friends— who should be a near-constant part of your life— you SHOULD miss them if they’re gone for a week.  The healthiest best friends want to share almost everything with each other: experiences, feelings, opinions, likes and dislikes.  The abnormal thing would be if your friend was gone for a week with minimal contact, someone you talk to every day of the week and with whom you share everything, and you DIDN’T miss them.

Being clingy is a problem, because clinginess is when you expect the other person to carry you all of the time and don’t work to stand on your own feet– instead of only leaning on a friend at times, and offering your shoulder for leaning in return.  Clinginess is when there isn’t a balance, when you convince yourself that you can’t get through a single day without constant contact with that person.

There’s a difference between clinginess and dependence.

Being DEPENDENT is not wrong.  One of the main purposes of a close relationship— whether platonic or romantic— is to help each other along the road called life, to be a travel buddy, a soul or heart partner.  This can’t happen if you’re not dependent.

And missing someone on whom you are dependent makes sense.  It's normal.  It's right.

I saw a pin the other night that explains it pretty well:
"It’s hard when you miss people.  But, you know, if you miss them it means you were lucky.  It means you had someone special in your life, someone worth missing." 
Nathan Scott
Specifically, this seems to be referring to people who are no longer in your life, but I think it can also be applied to temporary absences of friends.

Don't forget to miss your best friends.  Or any friends.  Missing someone is (usually) a sign of a healthy relationship.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

MBTI: Hazards of Typing

I love the MBTI test.  As someone who finds the study of personalities and psychology fascinating, I’m always interested in knowing what a person’s type is.  Of the dozens of personality test I've personally tried, I prefer this one because of the variety.  There are 16 distinct personality types (32 subtypes if you include the -T or -A designation), which makes it easier for everyone to find their type.  I’ve also found it easier to explain to people than most other personality tests.

That said, there are definitely flaws with constantly using it to identify yourself, particularly when you box yourself in with it.

It’s not foolproof
It’s not uncommon for people to be mis-typed.  Often (but not always) this is because a person doesn’t know themselves well enough to correctly answer all of the questions.  For example: my ENFP sister thought she was an INFP for months because the test always gave her that result.  I kept telling her she was an extrovert, but until she had heard a comprehensive explanation of the differences between extroverts and introverts, she couldn’t answer some of the questions correctly and correspondingly the test was giving her the wrong result.

Other times this is because some versions of the test have a neutral option on the questions, making it harder for the test to conclusively sort people.

Still other times it’s because an alternative testing site or book was used to type someone, instead of the ‘official’ internet/book test.

Sometimes, even when none of these apply, the online or self-administered test is still wrong.  Here’s why: IT’S AN EQUATION.  Every person is a unique individual, but the online test is a generalized, computer-run test.  It takes your answers and computes them according to the list criteria , yes, but it’s still only an equation.  Mathematics cannot accurately define a human because of the wide range of personalities and intricacies found in each person.  Sometimes it takes another human that knows you well enough to help walk you through it and define you correctly.

Also, learning from just any book on the topic can be hard because many books are written by people who deal more in data than in practicality, (think of it as ‘clinical psychology’ vs ‘practical psychology’).

It can create misunderstandings
If you type an MBTI designation into Pinterest or Google, you’ll get thousands of results.  But not all of them are right.  (In fact, Pinterest is often the opposite of right.)  What you see are usually stereotypes (often incorrect ones) or simply wrong assumptions.

For example: INFPs are often far deeper intellectually than they are portrayed.  INTJs have a reputation for being hard at communication, but that’s not true either; they’re just wary of communicating with most people.

So view the results with a few grains of salt and remember that individual characteristics can’t be generalized and for each type, there is still a wide range of unique personalities.

It can lead to false representations
Leading off of the previous point, it’s easy to dislike some of the representations about your personality type and thus try to 'cross types' or represent yourself as a hybrid in an effort to escape type cliches and stereotypes.

Occasionally, there will be true MBTI hybrids, but it's pretty rare because of how specific the test is; most people usually fall into one type.

It’s better to step up and prove to people that even though you are a type typically known for flightiness (INFP for example) you are not solely defined by your type.  You are more than that.

It can enable a mindset of excusing
It’s easy, especially in the American culture of today, to use your type as an excuse for your behavior.  ‘well, I’m an INTJ and I’m smarter than 97% of the people I know, so it’s okay for me to be rude to them.’  No.  It’s not.  Hearkening back to being more than your type, no one has an excuse for being rude, inconsiderate, or downright willfully stupid.

You can utilize your personality designation without boxing yourself in.  Just remember this one little fact:

It’s only one part of the puzzle

Many factors besides personality type go into determining a one’s complete personality, including but not limited to: history, background, genetic heritage, gender, family, career, and whether they are left brain or right brain.

Knowing your type can be incredibly helpful for other people to understand you or for you to understand the world around you and how you react to it.  But it’s still only a part of the picture, even if it's a hugely significant part.